Sam’s Section: One player from each key non-conference UConn MBB opponent  

UConn basketball teams kick off their season with the annual First Night event at Gampel Pavilion on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. In spirit of the date, UConn became college basketball’s worst nightmare with it’s Friday the 13 theme. Photo by Zachary Moller/The Daily Campus.

College basketball is right around the corner, which means the UConn men’s basketball team will begin one of its toughest non-conference schedules in recent memory. 

This year will feature the Huskies against Indiana, Louisville or No. 18 Texas, No. 1 Kansas, No. 19 North Carolina and No. 11 Gonzaga. On those teams are some of the best players in college basketball. This article will headline some of the biggest threats these teams will have, players who can lead their respective teams to victory over the defending national champions. 

Mackenzie Mgbako, F, Indiana (consensus top 10 recruit in 2023 class) 

Mackenzie Mgbako is a 6-foot-8-inch, 210-pound freshman mainly playing power forward. He’s from New Jersey where he attended Roselle Catholic High School. He’s a new addition to head coach Mike Woodson’s team but should make an immediate impact as one of the favorites for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He was a consensus five-star recruit, ranked in the top 10 on ESPN, 247Sports and Rivals. As a senior, he averaged 16.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, leading his school to the NJSIAA Non-Public B State Title. The Hoosiers lost a lot from last year’s team, including Jalen Hood-Schifino, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Miller Kopp. With all those key players gone from this year’s roster, Mgbako can lead Indiana in likely his only year in Bloomington. UConn will face Mgbako and the Hoosiers in New York City on Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. on ESPN. 

Max Abmas, G, Texas (21.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4 apg, 43.6 fg%) 

Max Abmas is one of the best scorers in the entire country, averaging at least 21 points per game since his sophomore year at Oral Roberts, helping lead the Cinderella team to the Sweet 16 in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot, 175-pound fifth-year senior was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team and will fill in the role that once belonged to Marcus Carr, who graduated following their 2023 NCAA Tournament loss to Miami. Abmas is the NCAA Division I active career scoring leader with 2562 points in four years. He was named the Summit League Player of the Year twice, including last year, where he led the Golden Eagles to a regular season and tournament title in the conference. 

Mike James, G, Louisville (10.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 45.3 fg%) 

In his redshirt freshman year, Mike James was second on the team in scoring with a promising field goal percentage for a young 6-foot-5-inch, 200-pound guard who started every game for the Cardinals. For a historic program, abysmal is an understatement to describe Louisville’s season last year, finishing with a 4-28 overall record, including a 0-9 start. James is hoping for a better season and looks to be the team’s leader. He was one of two ACC freshmen to average at least 10 points and three rebounds per game last season. UConn will either face James and Louisville, or Abmas and Texas on Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. on ESPNU. 

Hunter Dickinson, C, Kansas (18.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 56 fg%, 42.1 3pt%, 1.8 bpg) 

Hunter Dickinson was the biggest name in the transfer portal, surprising the college basketball world after three years at Michigan. While in Ann Arbor, the 7-foot-2-inch giant earned many national and conference honors, most notably being a three-time All-Big Ten selection, which includes first-team All-Big Ten selections the past two seasons. The matchup between him and UConn center Donovan Clingan, both likely to be on the preseason watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, is set to be a blockbuster showdown. He ranked third in the Big Ten with 14 double-doubles, fourth in blocked shots per game and fifth in field goal percentage. Dickinson was named the Big 12 Preseason Player and Newcomer of the Year. The Huskies travel to Lawrence to face Dickinson and the Jayhawks on Dec. 1 at 9 p.m. on ESPN2. 

Armando Bacot, F, North Carolina (15.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 55.4 fg%, 1 bpg) 

Armando Bacot is North Carolina’s all-time leader in rebounds (1335) and double-doubles (68) and continues to be a reliable big for the Tar Heels as he enters his final season in Chapel Hill. The third-team All-American is the first player in the program to repeat as first-team All-ACC since Tar Heel legend Tyler Hansbrough did it four straight years (2006-09). Standing at 6-foot-11-inches, he came up big in wins against Ohio State, Michigan, Wake Forest and Clemson last season. However, his impressive season was not enough for the Tar Heels, as they did not make the NCAA Tournament despite being the preseason No. 1 team last season. It will likely be Bacot against Clingan during a blue-blood battle in the Big Apple on Dec. 5 at 9 p.m. on ESPN. 

Ryan Nembhard, G, Gonzaga (12.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 4.8 apg, 43.2 fg%, 87.1 ft%) 

Ryan Nembhard will be a familiar face to UConn fans, as he spent the last two seasons in Omaha playing for Creighton. The 6-foot, 175-pound junior came up big for the Bluejays. After earning the Big East Freshman of the Year award during his 2021-22 campaign, he led Greg McDermott’s squad to victories over Texas Tech, Arkansas, Texas and Baylor with over 15 points in each game. That also included a career-high 30 points in a second-round upset over Baylor. Despite his ability to rack up assists, he only reached double-digits once, in a blowout win over Holy Cross. The highest he’s scored against Connecticut is 12 points, but that was not enough for the Bluejays to defeat the Huskies. UConn will take on Nembhard and the Bulldogs on Dec. 15 at 10 p.m. on ESPN2. 

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